The Tomato Story
At a N2N meeting, Scott Marier, WARM's Executive Director, mentioned that someone had generously donated 150 boxes of tomatoes. After feeding all those in the pantry, and distributing tomatoes to other food pantries he still had about 20 boxes left and wondered if those in attendance at the meeting would be able to take some home. Many took one or two boxes to distribute to their neighbors (living the N2N message). During her term as Mayor, Kathy Cocuzzi took a box home and lugged it across the street. (I don't know if you've ever carried a case of tomatoes, but they are not light.) Her first neighbor came to the door and started talking about their new patio and the construction trucks that would be in front of her house for the next week. She listened politely thinking, "These tomatoes are pretty heavy!" Eventually they got around to the tomatoes and she explained where they came from, because of course, he asked, "Why not take them to WARM?"
Her neighbor gladly took a few. The next house took about 8, which made her extremely grateful. She continued criss-crossing the street, repeating this story, and come to a house with an open garage door. As she stood before the front door of someone she didn't know, she thought, "I wonder if they will open up, seeing a person with a box standing there. I bet they wonder if I'm trying to sell them something." But as luck would have it, they opened their door with a smile and happily took some of the tomatoes. As she reached the very last house on the street, she smelled their BBQ grill. Something yummy was being prepared for dinner. She bravely walked around to the back of the house following the smell. She didn't know these neighbors either, but who can resist someone carrying a big brown box with a smile on their face? They said hello at the same time and she mentioned she had to follow her nose because something smelled delicious. Her neighbor told her what he was grilling and she asked him if he'd like some tomatoes to go with it. He looked strangely at her first and then said "SURE!" She went on to share the tomato story and how she was just being neighborly.
After he heard the details about the tomatoes, he explained a recent situation that he was involved in. On Easter Sunday, he was Uptown and saw a woman with two boys who looked a bit distraught. He asked her if he could help and found she was looking for St. Paul's Church. She had nowhere to go and had left a bad situation on short notice. He explained to her that St. Paul's was at least a mile up the road and offered them a ride. She graciously accepted. While he drove her to her destination he found out that they had nowhere to go and she had an upcoming appointment that week with WARM for help. As he dropped her off, he reached in his wallet, and gave her $20, the only money in it. He was apologetic that it was all that was in there.
Kathy was honored that he shared his story with her and told him that it was a neighborly act and demonstrated what N2N is all about. Feeling good on her way back home, with an empty box, another neighbor called to see if I had any more tomatoes. She did. Her neighbor took a bunch and made salsa -- which he then distributed to some of the neighbors.
Kathy's story did not end that night. During a recent vacation, she was relaxing by the pool and writing a speech outline for the WARM Prayer Breakfast. A friend, who lives in Columbus, came up and asked what she was doing. Kathy explained. Her friend asked her to share what ideas she had, which got them on the discussion of being neighborly and the N2N initiative. She said, "Well, your tomato story is the speech right there. Stop worrying! And by the way, I work with a nonprofit group out of the Columbus Foundation that gives funding to single mothers of children ages 0-3, and another branch works with older children." Right away, Kathy thought of Neighborhood Bridges, the group that Rick Bannister created for working with our schools.
"Oh, and we can donate to food pantries as well, along with diapers and other necessary items single moms would use." And that led me back to WARM.
So the tomatoes had come full circle. You never know when a single act will change someone's life. The take away from this story? Try harder to be neighborly. To say hello. To get to know your neighbors. And the next time you see a tomato at a store or a farmer's market, think of this story and how you can be a good neighbor.